Presented on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at the Quarry Farm Barn. Paula Harrington, a 2013 Fulbright Scholar, is Director of the Farnham Writers’ Center at Colby College, where she also teaches in the English Department. She has published in The Mark Twain Annual and the Minnesota Review.
When most people think of Mark Twain, France does not come immediately to mind. Readers associate him, naturally, with the Mississippi River and the towns—fictional and real—along its banks made famous by Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Students and scholars of Twain also understand his life and works in the geographical and cultural contexts of the American West and the global locales he describes in travel writings from The Innocents Abroad to Following the Equator. These, wisdom has it, are the places that formed and fed Twain, on which he built the body of work considered by many the foundation of American literature. But France and the French? They have remained in the shadows as the subjects of Twain’s only admitted bias—the one place and people he detested. This lecture will challenge the assumption that France—and French culture mediated through its presence in America, especially in Missouri—played little or no role in Twain’s development as an American writer. Harrington argues that France and the French instead exerted a formative pressure in Twain’s construction, through his writing, of a new kind of “American” identity in the later nineteenth century. She discusses her research and lectures at universities across France as a 2013 Fulbright Scholar and previews her work with her French colleague, Professor Ronald Jenn of the University of Lille, on their book-in-progress, The French Face of Twain.